“I’m not in this for the long-haul,” says the mild-mannered cab driver, a little too off-handedly. “This is temporary.”
“How long you been doing this?” asks the passenger.
In the Michael Mann movie Collateral (2004), Jamie Foxx plays “Max,” a Los Angeles cabbie who’s “just filling in” at the wheel until he pulls together the loose ends to pursue his true ambition, which is to start a high-end limo service. Yet somehow all he ever does is dream.
His dreamy procrastination is interrupted one night, though, when he picks up “Vincent,” an intense, focused man with a tight schedule. “I’m in town for a real estate deal. Close in one night. I got five stops to make. Collect signatures. See some friends. And then I got a six a.m. out of LAX.”
Against his better instincts, Max grants Vincent’s request to serve as his private driver for the night — for six hundred dollars. Shortly afterwards, at their first stop, a body falls from a fourth-story window and lands on top of Max’s cab, rattling the meek cabbie to the bone.
“You were going to drive me around tonight and never be the wiser,” explains Vincent. “But we’re to plan B. Now we gotta make the best of it. Improvise. Adapt to the environment.” So Max learns Vincent’s real agenda. He’s a “private sector” assassin only visiting Los Angeles to pick off a handful of informants for a high-stakes government trial.
Tom Cruise delivers a convincing performance as the salt-and-pepper-haired Vincent, an uber-competent killing machine with no conscience, a cynical philosophy of life, and an acerbic appreciation for jazz.
Nitzschean anti-heroes make for good drama. Ayn Rand understood this well and integrated it into The Fountainhead through the character Gail Wynand. We know they’re wrong, but we can’t help but admire them, if only a little. Vincent fits the mold: a modern-day ubermensch. A wolf in the city.
Such characters reveal much about the people around them. Those who fear them. Those who admire them. Those who learn from them.
If the Nietzschean error is to conflate virtue and strength, its value is in reminding us that strength is virtuous. “Sure you’ve got convictions,” the ubermensch asks. “But have you the guts to act on them?” (Howard Roark’s genius was to answer in the affirmative, though with a qualification: “...And without sacrificing my independence or integrity.”)
Has Max got the guts to act decisively in the face of the ubermensch? One look at Max and you know it’s an open question.
You’ll have to watch the movie to find out. Who knows — perhaps you, too, will find yourself learning something from the ubermensch.
You can purchase the DVD for a great price, at Amazon.
Joshua Zader is CEO of Atlas Web Development, as well as the owner and founder of The Atlasphere. His personal website is at www.zader.com.